A potential weapon against osteoarthritis could be right in the grocery produce aisle.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia found in lab studies that sulforaphane, a compound found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, seems to be able to prevent and slow progression of joint cartilage destruction that occurs in osteoarthritis.
The findings are promising, considering osteoarthritis -- which has no cure -- is the most common kind of arthritis.
"As well as treating those who already have the condition, you need to be able to tell healthy people how to protect their joints into the future. There is currently no way in to the disease pharmaceutically and you cannot give healthy people drugs unnecessarily, so this is where diet could be a safe alternative," study researcher Ian Clark, a professor of musculoskeletal biology at the university, said in a statement. "Although surgery is very successful, it is not really an answer. Once you have osteoarthritis, being able to slow its progress and the progression to surgery is really important. Prevention would be preferable and changes to lifestyle, like diet, may be the only way to do that."
The study, published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, involved applying sulforaphane to human cartilage cells, as well as cow cartilage tissue. Researchers found that the compound seemed to slow down the destruction of such cartilage.
They also fed mice sulforaphane, and found that those who ate lots of the compound had less cartilage damage and osteoarthritis.
Now, researchers are embarking on another study where they feed 40 osteoarthritis patients a special sulforaphane-rich "super broccoli" for two weeks before undergoing knee replacement surgery.
Sulforaphane has shown promise in other conditions as well, particularly against cancer. A study published last year in the journal PLOS ONE showed that sulforaphane is able to kill leukemia cells in a lab setting.